Gay Sweatshop, Alternative Theatre, And Strategies For New Writing

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New Theatre Quarterly


Theatre Arts


Gay Sweatshop spent twenty-two years producing plays as Britain's first openly gay professional theatre company. Their alternative and political work primarily took the form of author-driven new writing, though experiments with performer-driven work intrigued the company from its earliest cabarets to its late phase of queer solo work under Lois Weaver. In this article, Sara Freeman pinpoints Sweatshop's tenth anniversary new play festival in 1985 as the moment when the company committed to new writing as a strategy for gaining greater legitimacy as a theatre group and as a central mode to encourage gay and lesbian voices and representation. She argues that while this had been the default mode of much 1970s political theatre including Sweatshop's, as it played out in the 1980s, a new writing strategy represented a move toward institutional stability as the locus of theatrical radicalism shifted aesthetics. In this analysis, the celebration of company anniversaries and the creation of festival events provided occasions for the company to experience the success or failure of its policies. Freeman is Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Puget Sound. She is the co-editor of Public Theatres and Theatre Publics (2012) and International Dramaturgy: Translation and Transformations in the Theatre of Timberlake Wertenbaker (2008). Her recent publications appear in Modern British Playwriting: the 1980s. Readings in Performance and Ecology, and the forthcoming volume The British Theatre Company from Fringe to Mainstream: Volume II 1980–1994. ABSTRACT FROM PUBLISHER];